Once upon a time, I married the wrong person, and we did not live happily ever after. Now, in my mid 40s, happily married to an incredible guy, with a beautiful, blended family, it’s easy to look back and see the glaring red flags. In my 20s…not so easy. I tricked myself into thinking it was the quintessential fairy tale when really it was more like a psychological thriller. I met a cute boy my freshman year of college. I confused his cockiness for confidence and our very dysfunctional romance commenced. We dated for eight years and during that time, every part of who I was withered away, and I drifted further away from my true self. My spirit was obliterated. My spark was gone. My confidence was destroyed. My mind was torn between different versions of reality. The one that was real and the one I imagined and tried to will into existence. The whole thing from beginning to end was a complete mindbender that changed me. My friends and family did that thing where they kept their mouths shut and tolerated the relationship and marriage but disguised it as approval.
If people did speak up and share concerns, I distanced myself and even shut them out to preserve the façade in my head. I held on to it for dear life afraid of what I would have to admit to myself if I listened and heard hard truths. It was a typical on again/off again relationship. Zero stability. Zero healthy communication. Zero coping mechanisms for the hard stuff. All of it was compounded by the societal pressures of following the traditional marriage trajectory. Nobody knew the truth or what was going on behind the scenes so, when things went south once a week, I just shoved it all down and played pretend. I sat at countless dinner tables putting on my mask while the people around me had no idea that moments before we walked in the door we were in the thick of intense conflict. Fake it till you make it was the theme of my life in this marriage. I would wake up most mornings wondering how the hell I got here, knowing damn well that I walked right into it, willingly, trying to act as if I had everything I could ever want when really, I was dying inside.
Then we got engaged. I felt like the eight years of blood, sweat and tears finally paid off. That diamond was like my trophy for enduring the race and breaking through that ribbon at the finish line. My immaturity fueled the mindset that marriage would fix everything. If we are married, there are no more break ups. We must stay in love. Marriage is forever and now everything will be ok and will fall into place. For a while, the intoxication of wedding planning kept me going. I filled my white bedazzled wedding binder with ideas, vendor information and honored that thing like it was a damn bible. I was a Pinterest bride before Pinterest was a thing. I poured every ounce of my being into creating a romantic, beautiful, picturesque day to commemorate a relationship that was none of those things. On the day of my wedding, I was dressed in the bridal suite, waiting to make my entrance and continue the façade. I wore an A-line, slightly blush colored ball gown, a finger-tip length veil, dyeable slingback pumps and a fucking tiara. I was genuinely excited because I was in love. Even though I should not have been, I was. A bridesmaid came up to the suite to see me, looked at me and said, “Are you sure you want to do this?” I was equal parts intrigued and offended and told her not to be ridiculous, of course I want to do this.
Then I had a moment I will never forget and still have a visceral reaction when I think about it. As I grabbed my bouquet and prepared to walk down the aisle, I thought, “what if he doesn’t show up?” I felt scared and sick and actually thought of that scenario as a possible outcome. Can you imagine thinking it was even a remote possibility that the person you have promised to spend the rest of your life with might stand you up at the chuppah? I convinced myself it was a totally normal thought. Like, many brides before me must have had a moment where they wondered if their groom would bolt, right? Because when you want something bad enough, even if it’s unequivocally wrong for you, you can convince yourself of almost anything. He did show up. We did get married, went on our honeymoon, and had a brief period of marital bliss. Then we were back in the same pattern, and I was back to being a shell of myself. The highs were high, and the lows were unbearable. During an upswing, I got pregnant, and we were thrilled. To my core, I always wanted to be a mother more than anything. And when I finally was, everything bad around me disappeared and life was perfect. She was perfect. Like any tumultuous relationship, I lived in the ebbs and flows. I reveled in the good and clung to it to get me through the bad.
Like holding to a life preserver that is keeping you alive but also floating through impossibly rough waters with angry waves crashing all around. After almost a decade of this debilitating dance, we finally divorced. Everything about it sucked but I never wanted anything more in my life at that moment than to be out of that marriage. It was a long, secretly brutal road filled with painful lessons but also so much growth and introspection. I wish I would have listened to my gut many times in that marriage. Then I don’t because if I had, there would be no child, and she is worth all of it a million times over plus infinity. I still to this day look at her and am in awe of everything about her. I feel our bond strengthen by the day, even amid the teenage years where things get dicey sometimes. The truth is that I married the wrong person, and it took me a long time to accept that and begin the healing process. I’m still healing and learning. I grapple with the idea that the best thing in my life came from the worst. But that’s what therapy and Zoloft are for I suppose. What I learned the most was to trust my gut. It knows. It’s like a built in, internal alarm skillfully trained to protect you and keep you safe – mind, body, and soul. Don’t underestimate it. I know I never will again.
Rachel Sobel is an award-winning writer, author, speaker, do-over wife and mom to two girls. She is also the creator and cohost of the lifestyle podcast, Friends Without Benefits alongside the Miami Heat in-arena host, Uptown Dale. Rachel has appeared on NPR, The Doctors, The Tamron Hall Show and The Kelly Clarkson Show (Rachel is still not fully recovered from Kelly calling her hilarious on national television). Her Instagram account, @whineandcheezits has garnered more than 100K followers and has become a community of women who rely on each other to commiserate about life, marriage, kids and now more than ever, middle age!